A settlement through mediation that the Archdiocese of Milwaukee hoped to achieve with 16 victims/survivors of sexual abuse of minors by priests likely will not occur, according to Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki, after attorneys for the claimants rejected the archdiocese’s formal settlement of $4.6 million.
In a letter e-mailed Thursday, Dec. 16 to those who receive his weekly Love One Another communiqué, the archbishop wrote, “It has been five weeks since our last meeting and it has become clear that additional progress is unlikely. So I write to you today to tell you that, despite our sincere efforts, the mediation seems to have failed.”
He noted that representatives of the archdiocese had met with lawyers for victims/survivors and an independent mediator on Oct. 18 and Nov. 11. Since the process began, the archbishop said, the attorney representing victims/survivors told the archdiocese of eight more people who intended to file lawsuits.
“Between those two meetings, the archdiocese shared its financial information with the attorneys representing the victims/survivors. We also shared our current policies, ongoing commitment and openness to additional actions to ensure children are safe today,” Archbishop Listecki wrote. “We believe compensating victims/survivors is the right thing to do and our goal was to reach a resolution that would provide just compensation and avoid the huge legal expense and lengthy delays a trial would bring.”
The archbishop noted that in order for a mediation to be successful, agreement needed to be reached on financial terms and non-economic issues – the latter providing victims/survivors assurances the archdiocese “is committed to candid communication about perpetrators and past incidents of abuse, as well as the establishment of policies that keep kids safe.”
“The majority of the terms presented by the attorneys for victims/survivors are already the policy and practice of the archdiocese and listed on our Web site,” he wrote.
The archbishop noted the archdiocese had “to understand the financial demands that would be necessary to achieve a resolution.”
“Our financial picture shows an organization that has depleted most of its unrestricted assets to support victims/survivors and cover related costs. To free up resources for these purposes, we have sold property, redirected interest and investment income, liquidated savings and investments, mortgaged the Cousins Center and reduced archdiocesan staff by nearly 40 percent since 2002,” Archbishop Listecki stated.
The result of those steps has enabled the archdiocese to reach mediated settlements with close to 190 victims/survivors, but they have come at a price – reduction of archdiocesan central offices “to a threadbare operation.”
Funds that remain are restricted, by law, for designated purposes and by the intent of donors.
The archbishop said that even when the mediation talks stalled, he wanted to attempt to reach resolution.
“With humility and a sense of the penance we must bear, we stretched as far as we thought we could in determining what we could afford to offer to resolve these cases,” he said, noting that the archdiocese had consulted with its finance council.
“Our calculations took into consideration the fact that there would be more funds available for victims/survivors if we could spend less on legal costs. At the same time, we recognized the need to retain some funds to equitably provide for additional victims/survivors who have yet to come forward, and also to provide essential services to our parishes and schools,” Archbishop Listecki wrote.
During the last 30 days, the archbishop noted, the archdiocese also learned that the Wisconsin Court of Appeals ruled against the archdiocese in a pending case against its insurance companies.
“Although we can ask the Wisconsin Supreme Court to review this decision, settling these cases without the financial contribution of insurance becomes more challenging,” he wrote.
The archbishop wrote that he was uncertain about the next steps, but he did offer assurance.
“We will strive to do the best we can to meet the needs of all victims/survivors, those who have already come forward and those who will do so in the future. We will continuously apologize to those whose lives have been devastated by the perpetrators of clergy sexual abuse,” Arhcbishop Listecki stated. “We will continue the policies and practices we have implemented to keep children safe today. We will work to continue the essential ministries and services to parishes, schools and others who rely upon the Church for assistance.”
He asked people to pray for victims/survivors and their families, for God’s presence in their lives, and that the Holy Spirit provides guidance and inspiration as to how the archdiocese proceeds.
“During this season of hope, my prayer is the traditional Advent prayer from the Book of Revelation (22:20), Marana tha: Come Lord Jesus,” the archbishop wrote. “As we prepare for His coming let us continue to Love One Another.”